Today I Filed a New Saw

It took me two minutes exactly to sharpen a 10″ saw with 190 teeth.When it was done it cut as well as any premium saw I ever used and I have used the best of the best. The thing is this. Buy any saw from any maker, use it for lets say 40 hours and by that time it will need sharpening. So it’s no use telling me how good a saw is out of the box because after using it for a short time it must be resharpened. Here’s the other thing. A saw should never be dull when you sharpen it. People tend to leave it as long as they can and often until it almost stops cutting before the resharpen. That’s a bad thing to do. One, it takes much longer to sharpen when left undone for too long, two, and this is more important, the sides of the teeth no longer sheer as the saw passes into and through the cut and this leaves unsharp edges to the shoulders or knifewall, three, it takes much more effort, four, it’s slower.

Every woodworkers should master the art of sharpening handsaws of every type from the small gent’s saw up to the 6 ppi handsaws. Another thing is this. Saws that come from the makers are rarely if every sharpened to task. Remember that they are usually some kind of engineer and mostly found a niche to make something to sell. Mostly they don’t work with wood. When you learn to sharpen a saw at first you sharpen in a general pattern. After a while, not fifty five years, you learn to change angles and tooth bevels to suit, a) the task, b) the wood species, c) the wood type with regards to grain density and fibre type.

It’s definitely bad practice to sell saws improperly sharpened in my view. But then again once you’ve bought any saw by any maker you must sharpen it shortly after anyway so what does it really matter in the scheme of things. I have always striven to give my customers the very best no matter how much they paid for my work. But that’s me.

29 thoughts on “Today I Filed a New Saw”

  1. ” to sharpen a 10″ saw with 190 teeth.”

    Wow… that’s just over half a second per tooth! And they are small teeth!

    That’s 50 plus years of skill coming to the fore… I’ll never be that good/fast!


  2. So true are your points. I sometimes find myself putting off sharpening and end up applying additional efforts to attain the edge/tooth necessary.
    What do you mean by “40 hours”? Is is after a weeks work of work or 40 hours of the saw applied to wood? What “tells” you to stop and sharpen? What senses are you relying on? Be it a saw, plane iron, chisel. For me, after the first few dozen or so cuts, chops, shaves, I can sense the diminished edge. But I do not know when should I stop to sharpen up. I have heard/read others say “before you think you need to”. Not a valuable answer.

  3. I’ve seen old saws advertised as crosscut and sharpened rip cut ready to use I’ve no idea what they think they’re playing at.

  4. A lot of sellers online assume any large toothed saw is a rip cut saw. Mostly, when I buy an old saw , the teeth are a mess. I can then file to whatever I want.

  5. Matt – Never say never, brother! I thought I’d never be able to cut dovetails by hand with an airtight fit…I was wrong…with practice, you will find your eye and your hand in total concert accomplishing a level of skill you never imagined!

    Keep at it, brother!

  6. That makes me think of an enterprising idea – is there any maker selling saw blanks? Just the saw, but with no teeth cut (and perhaps no handle!) – the steel would have to be good quality to appeal to a buyer who would cut the first teeth. This way, choose your own PPI.

  7. I decided to bite the bullet and sharpen my saws at the the start of the last couple of projects and I’ve got to admit that the more frequent sharpening was really quick and cutting with really sharp tools a joy.
    Next question is – how long should a saw file last?

    I first found Paul and Woodworker’s Master Class while searching for saw sharpening tutorials and I stayed to wonder – I can’t decide whether the knife-wall technique or the baked-bean oil can is the best thing I’ve got from him

    1. A decent quality saw file like Bahco will sharpen 30 sharpenings. Bad files like Nicholsons sometimes not even a whole saw.

  8. What are the recommendations to set saws with higher PPIs? I can’t find saw set pliers for these kinds of saws let’s say for 14 PPI or above here in Germany. What tools and procedures are best practice for this application?

  9. Learning how to sharpen my tools is probably the most useful skill that I’ve learnt off watching Pauls videos (both the free and the paid for ones). Please note that I’m not dissing Pauls teaching in any way (quite the contrary), I’m just stressing how much better my work is now I know what sharp is. Sure, it’s a tad nervy the first couple of times as you’re convinced you’re going to ruin your saw but this never happens. You end up with a nice sharp saw. OK, it takes me about 10-15 mins to do a saw, but I’m not in any rush and I enjoy the task so what’s the problem? As Paul says, enjoy the journey. Thanks Paul for teaching this stuff.

  10. Thanks Paul. For me, I have been sending my saws out to be sharpened and I am somewhat embarrassed by this.

    What worries me Paul isn’t the sharpening part. You have great videos on that. I feel stressed about putting the set of the teeth and what if tracks off course. Could you please add a few words about how easy/hard it is to set the teeth after sharpened and it’s level of importance.

    Many thanks.

    1. Joe, dear, dear Joe, No one should be embarrassed for sending their saws out. I have known almost all carpenters through the years that did this in more recent years, the 80s anyway, prior to the advent of hard-point throwaway saws. That art and therefore the confidence was quickly lost and so to the traditions of word of mouth handing down man to boy as happened for three or four centuries and more. Therefore to many it seems like some dark art and that’s why I do 95% of what I do to help amateurs pick up the thread professionals abandoned in buying throwaway saws and, even worse still, pridefully bragging about how clever that is. It’s the amateur that has the key to the future of woodworking, furniture making and so on now.They are the ones that run with the baton. This is indeed a remarkable turn of events. My apprentice now teaches support workers with me in support of autists. These autists will likely join other woodworkers like myself to ensure the traditions live on as proven technology. These are the people that work for the love of the craft and not the money they earn. I think this to be one of the loveliest things I have encountered in my latter years. This is my investment.
      Oh, mis-setting the teeth. It is a possibility with very small teeth to be setting and then skip a tooth and end up setting the opposite teeth the wrong way thus negating the setting to the previous side. If that happens then you simply tap out all set between to hammer faces as in removing set and start over. Here is a trick though.Run a thick sharpie felt tip along the sides of the teeth on both sides.The Sharpie will pick up the protruding teeth more and leave the others out. Then you will be able to see which teeth are going in which direction and set accordingly the ones going away from you.

  11. Oh I’m not giving up… I can and do sharpen my saws using Paul’s techniques… What I doubt I’ll ever do is reach that speed… 190 teeth in 2 mins! No chance!

    1. They really are good.eventually though you will rely much more on touch and sound, that’s when speed and accuracy truly take place.

  12. I found a spear & jackson back saw & a S & P rip saw in my rusty collection of saws plus 2 x diston cross cut saws. I grabbed my “hardware tenon saw” and both of my gents saws and took them to a saw sharpener who does it by hand and machine. I don’t use them enough to warrant me learning to sharpen them because they will stay sharp a long time. It will be 2 or 3 yrs before I need to sharpen them again. No I’m not embarrassed by doing this just a realist

  13. I don’t see a real problem in being slow when sharpening a saw, a plane or whatever. I sharpen my tools with the techniques I’ve learned from Paul (once again, hank you vey much Paul for your work) but sincewoodworking is a hobby for me I don’t need to sharpen my saws very often (it’s different with planes and chisels, of course). the result is that when I come to sharpen a saw, I must go sssssslooooowlyyy since I don’t have the practique I would need to do it fast, but I do it anyway, and the saw cuts well when sharpening is finished. What’s the problem with spending half an hour sharpening a saw if you don’t need to do it very frequently?

    When I began to watch Paul’s videos things did look very easy for me. “Ah, it doesn’t look too difficult”, I thought. When I began too do all those things I realised that it’s time, work and practique what makes master to be master. I knew I would need many years if I wanted to work with wood with that security and quality, since no one is a good woodworker only for having the tools. Yes, I’m slow doing certain things, like sharpening saws… so what? I find it nice and interesting, and learning curve is a process in almost all things in life. If I think that I can be so good in a few years as the man who has been doing this for 50 years I’m wrong. Absolutely wrong.

    We have an old expression in Spain for this: “El diablo sabe más por viejo que por diablo”. “Devils know more from being old than from being Devil” could be an approximate translation. Most of all will be still probably far from being “old devils” in hand tool woodworking.

  14. Paul thanks for the tip with a felt tip pen for setting the teeth. I use one on top of the teeth to track what’s been filed; allows you to stop in the middle and go back to it also. Never thought of it for setting.

  15. If I could have a re-do on learning woodworking, one thing I’d change is that I’d never buy a used saw to start off with as a new woodworker. At this point, I’ve bought about 10 used saws and every single one of them, but two, suffered from cows & calves or some other malady. The point is that these things are very difficult for a new sharpener to learn on if there isn’t someone at his or her elbow to guide them. I very much wish I had purchased a new saw so that I could first gain confidence in *sharpening* rather than having to immediately figure out shaping teeth and correcting uneven spacing. When I did this, I had Paul’s videos (his original Working Wood sharpening video is excellent and he’s gone even further since) as well as videos by others. Dealing with someone else’s mangled saw is anything but easy. So, putting out the expense of a new saw would have been worth it. If someone cannot afford a new saw, get the used and you’ll figure it out, but if you can avoid it, get a new one. I’ve had the good fortune of using a saw sharpened by Paul. It performed better than any other saw I’ve ever used including new LN saws and a new saw handed to me by an artisan saw maker who I knew, after a few strokes of the saw, didn’t know how to sharpen. Honestly, I still struggle with my old Disston and am still progressively getting it back into shape (even spacing).

    By the way, you don’t need to buy an expensive saw to do what I’m saying. I bought a new “junky” plastic handled back saw plus (nearly useless) plastic miter box for around $10. It had uniform teeth that cut poorly, but were shaped properly. Sharpening them produced a very usable saw. It still hangs at my bench.

    1. My recommended new saws are the new Spear & Jackson versions, the ones I mostly use in my videos. The panel saw is their Spear & Jackson 22″(559mm) x 10pts Skew Back Saw which can be had for between £16-20. Their larger rip saw Spear & Jackson 24″(610mm) x 7 pts Skew Back Saw sells for a little more. I now use these exclusively because they are so affordable, cut so extremely well and will last a lifetime, and, and it’s a big and, they can be resharpened. Here too you can see what it takes to sharpen a handsaw. And here to see a comparison between high end ones and the Spear & Jackson ones.

  16. I’d like to recut a saws teeth. I watched your video on recutting and you’ve created 2mm spacing on the guide piece for 12 tpi. So i am guessing for 15-16tpi rip cut I should created around 1.5mm spacing on the guide piece?

  17. A saw with so small teeth must have a thinner plate. I would’t be very sure of the good behaviour of a saw with 16 ppi if the thickness of the plate is, for example, to a 12 tpi saw. Perphaps you may check it.

    1. Not altogether sure what or why your saying this, everything is correct and the plate is the perfect thickness at .78mm. You could sharpen this saw to any tooth pattern and tooth size between 12 and 25 ppi.

  18. 16 TPI = 1.5875 millimeters by my calculations. Although being American I don’t use metric I merely convert from it. I have metric metrology instrumentation but I prefer good old US Customary units for my work. I have been using my metric twist drill set a bit more lately though. I still like my 115 piece numbers, letters and fractional set better.

  19. I read somewhere that the saw plate must be thinner as the teeth are smaller. I’m not sure since I don’t remember exactly, but I think that the thickness for 16 ppi was around 0,25 in or so. I took that information as correct, but it seems clear that it wasn’t.

    I’m glad to know that you can retooth a saw this way, since I have an old Tyzack with 8″ length and 10 tpi wich I was considering to convert to 16 tpi and I wasn’t decided to do it because the plate is 0,30 in. I will do it then.

    Thank you very much Paul, and sorry for my comment before.

  20. I’ve found where I read about plate thickness and teeth size. It was in a publication from Bad Axe Saws, called “Demistifying the traditional backsaw”. The numbers were these:

    0.025 in (0.635 mm)…. 12-11-10 ppi
    0.02 in (0.508 mm)…… 14-13 ppi
    0.018 in (0.45 mm)…… 16-15-14 ppi
    0,015 in (0.381 mm)…. 17-16-15 ppi.

    Coming from Bad Axe, I took this information as correct. That was the reason for I said that the plate thickness had to be less. On the other way, since I follow Paul’s indications in woodworking everything has gone much better than before for me, specially in tools questions, so I will probably try to retooth a pair of saws I have following previous Paul’s comment.

    Thank you very much. I’m sorry again.

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